Working Burden

“I think the girl who is able to earn her own living and pay her own way should be as happy as anybody on earth. The sense of independence and security is very sweet.”  Susan B. Anthony

                The American Dream!  That catch –all phrase that has served as the “barometer” of success throughout the years.  The house in the burbs. . .the car. . .the white picket fence. . .the husband. . .the wife. . . the kids. . .the dog!  In the past it seemed quite an attainable goal.  My mother tells me stories of her childhood in the 60’s.  Her father worked at the post office while my grandmother stayed home with the four kids.  Although my grandfather’s job was menial blue-collar work, his salary was more than enough to take care of the mortgage, car, food, the dog, and other expenses with some even to spare for the occasional vacation.  My mother explains that while they didn’t have everything, they wanted all their needs were met.  So was the snapshot of the average American family in that era.  The majority of fathers “breadwinners” worked while the majority of mothers “breadmakers” stayed at home.  It by no means was a perfect arrangement but it did seem to provide a level of “happiness” and order. 

The feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s changed the structural make-up of this arrangement.  As women pressed for equality in the job arena, more and more women began to shun the “mundane” job of “stay-at-home” mother for the exciting new world of the workplace.  Feminism rightfully changed the workplace, but it unfortunately didn’t necessarily change “expectations” on the home front. 

The movement created opportunities for women which in turn raised expectations.  Women were no longer strictly confined to the rigors of domestic life.  The possibilities became endless.  Yet, the bulk of the burden of rearing children and housework responsibilities still has disproportionately fallen upon the backs of women.  Among married couples who work full time, women provide close to 70 percent of childcare during standard working hours, according to recent economic research.  They simply have carried more of the load then men since way before the coronavirus era.  However, with schools, camps and childcare facilities closed due to the pandemic the disparity has been exacerbated.

Balancing career and family have gotten even harder.  With many working from home it has highlighted and compounded the problem.  Women have regularly had to deal with being pushed in and out of the workforce.  Often family responsibilities such as caring for aging relatives or caring for a sick child have compelled many women to leave their jobs.  But with the slow reopening that is taking place nationwide the pandemic has the potential to significantly compound this problem and is highlighting just how fragile and problematic our caregiver structure is.

The stressors are adding up.  50% of women report sleeping fewer hours since the pandemic and almost 70% state they are significantly worried about their well-being. 

For organizational leadership teams, as companies begin to reopen, now more than ever it is important to adhere to the HERO framework.  Honesty.  We need to be open and honest.  Folks are not returning to the same workplaces they left.  People have concerns, questions and stressors that will impact how they work.  Managers must have open conversations with their employees and be supportive. 

Empathy.  We will need to lead with empathy.  We have to understand that staff and co-workers are experiencing new and different pressures from home and work.  Respect.  We must treat our folks in a kind and professional manner.  We are all in this together and only love is going to see us through.  Open-mindedness.  Be open and flexible.  We are going to have to be willing to provide different supports and accommodations to meet people’s needs.  Perhaps that looks like offering various leave options or informal scheduling arrangements.

Hopefully, a silver lining lies in all of this in the future.  It is time for us to get national paid parental leave policies in place and reform childcare.  If not, especially at the backdrop of the pandemic, we risk setting back years of progress in gender equality as well as weakening our talent pools which will have long-term adverse implications.